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Comparison of Waste-to-Energy Processes by Means of Life Cycle Analysis Principles regarding the Global Warming Potential Impact: Applied Case Studies in Greece, France and Germany

Kourkoumpas, Dimitrios-Sotirios, Karellas, Sotirios, Kouloumoundras, Spiros, Koufodimos, Georgios, Grammelis, Panagiotis, Kakaras, Emmanouel
Waste and biomass valorization 2015 v.6 no.4 pp. 605-621
burning, case studies, combustion, decision support systems, electricity, environmental impact, global warming potential, greenhouse effect, life cycle assessment, models, municipal solid waste, paper, plastics, refuse derived fuels, statistics, waste composition, waste management, France, Germany, Greece
This paper focuses on the comparison of waste-to-energy processes in terms of life cycle analysis. The processes compared are the municipal solid waste (MSW) direct combustion (known as mass burning) and the combustion of refused derived fuel (RDF) produced after separation of recyclable materials in a mechanical–biological treatment (MBT) facility. The basis of comparison for the two processes in this paper is their global warming potential (GWP). In specific, three European countries (Greece, Germany and France) were chosen as case studies. Their selection was based on their electricity mix characteristics and the general population culture toward waste management practices, as depicted in the waste composition. The waste composition applied for each country is the average estimated by local statistics and Eurostat data. The comparison between the two methods of incineration leads to the conclusion that the incineration of RDF has less impact on the greenhouse effect than the incineration of MSW. A sensitivity analysis based on different setup configurations for paper and plastic separation in the MBT plant was carried out. The results validate the priorities of waste management hierarchy, since the scenarios with high separation of valuable materials, such as paper and plastics, were environmentally friendlier in terms of GWP impact. The sensitivity analysis based on the change of the recovering rate shows an approximately linear relation of inverse proportion between recovering rate and total environmental impact. Furthermore, the increase in electricity efficiency plays a significant role in the greenhouse effect for the Greek scenario, while its respective effectiveness for the French scenario is lower. Since the final choice between the two processes relies solely upon the needs that should be met on specific occasions, the modeling has been carried out through life cycle analysis principles, in order to provide a decision-making tool for the selection of the most appropriate waste-to-energy technology according to the criteria that be set.